By Nathan Gernetzky
30 August 2015 at Bedfordview PM
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Jeremiah prophesied for more than forty years. He wrote down his material on a great scroll with the help of Baruch his scribe. The material is not arranged chronologically and it would seem he wrote down the words that came to mind when he felt that it was necessary to unravel the scroll and record more. His main words are directives concerning Judah; three cities – Jerusalem, Babylon and Damascus; seven Gentile nations; and the Messiah. A mark of Jeremiah’s prophecy is the object lessons he employs to explain God’s revelation to the people. Our imagination bubbles as we will think of him wearing a rotten girdle or yoking himself like an ox and then breaking a bottle in the presence of the king as he explains what God wants to be known.
Jeremiah is the ninth of the prophets. He prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah before and during the days of captivity. He witnessed three major historical events in his life:
(1) The battle of Megiddo between Judah and Pharaoh-Necho the Egyptian (the battle in which king Josiah was killed).
(2) The first defeat by Nebuchadnezzar when Judah was a vassal for Egypt.
(3) The capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the exile of Israel to Babylon.
At just 21, Jeremiah tells us more than any other prophet about himself. He begins by being worried about his age, inexperience and inability to speak well. But God has his way and Jeremiah faces many attacks, insults and strong disapprovals as God’s mouthpiece. His writing is full of emotion and he seems to be a humble, tender, yet strong man.
In reading through the book you will find that chapter 1 is taken up with the call of Jeremiah. Chapter 2-38 concerns Judah before the fall of Jerusalem. With long silences between the prophecies are what was said during the reign of Josiah (2:1-12:17), Jehoiakim (13:1-20:18; 25:1-27:11) and Zedekiah (21:1-24:10; 27:12-39:18). During the reign of Josiah the prophecies mainly concern warnings and God’s knowledge of Judah’s sin with a call to repent and change. Jehoiakim’s reign saw God declaring the judgement of Judah and surrounding nations. Nebuchadnezzar places Zedekiah on the throne in place of Jehoiakim (in his 4th year as king). Chapters 39-52 are during the reign of Zedekiah and are taken up with Zedekiah’s false prophets and Jeremiah in a continual stand off. Jeremiah also predicts that Judah will be in exile longer than they think and tells them that they will definitely return, the Messiah will come, and that the scattered of Israel will recover.
Jeremiah’s word to Judah could be summarised as follows: chosen, captured, carried away, coming Messiah.
Pic: “Jeremiah” by Rembrandt van Rijn (1630)
Fifty years has elapsed since the prophecy of Nahum. Zephaniah was most likely a prince in the house of Judah, being a descendant of Hezekiah. He lived during the reign of Josiah, a good king after two idol worshipping kings had followed Hezekiah. When king Josiah (only eight years old) took the throne the situation in Judah could not have been worse. Social injustice, moral corruption, and spiritual suicide pervaded idolatrous Judah. The words of Zephaniah must have really encouraged Josiah who would become one of the most loved of Judah’s kings.
At the beginning of his reign, Hilkiah the Priest guided Josiah and tended to keep the status quo. Then Josiah came under the influence of Zephaniah. At 16 he destroyed the altars in Jerusalem. At 20 he destroyed pagan altars throughout Judah. At 28 he began to rebuild the (by now) decrepit-looking temple of God. While cleaning the temple they discovered the Law of Moses and were shocked when they read what was inside. He ordered the Law to be read and obeyed in the whole land. But the people never really changed from the heart. Josiah is unfortunately killed in battle and the people don’t heed the message.
Almost every time in the Old Testament, when the day of the Lord is mentioned, it refers to a period of time. When numbers are mentioned before the day it may refer to 24-hours. The ‘day of the Lord’ is a time of the Lord’s special working. Through Zephaniah God is warning Judah that a time is coming when God will act in judgement and special power to rid them of idols, taking them into captivity.
Zephaniah introduces three important concepts (see if you can spot them). Firstly he shows us that a faithful remnant of people will return from captivity. Secondly the salvation and conversion of non-Israelites. And thirdly that one-day people will be able to worship God anywhere and not only in Jerusalem.
Terms that could trip you up
Milcom – also Molech. A netherworld god whose rituals were similar to Canaanite origins focussing on dead ancestors. Child sacrifice was a big part of Molech worship.
Threshold – a single stone that spanned the doorway and was slightly raised compared to the floor. It seems there were Near Eastern superstitions about stepping on the threshold somehow allowing demons that haunted the entrance to come in.
Second Quarter – the walls built by Hezekiah along the Western hills of the city of Jerusalem (2 Chron. 32:5)
The Mortar – a district in the city of Jerusalem called upon to repent. Mortar was the Market district.
Gaza and Ashkelon – Philistine cities in the late seventh century.
Cushites – the Ethiopians. It is unclear why they are denounced.
Jonah preaching to the pagan capital of Assyria has made Nineveh famous. But Nahum is 150 years later and Assyria has been as full of the violence and bloodshed as the empire it was known for. Unlike Jonah, Nahum tells Nineveh and Assyria of their certain fall and doom with no chance to repent (1:9). Nahum poetically visualises a courtroom scene to describe his words. This could be broken up into three big sections.
Firstly, in Nahum 1:1-7 we have a statement of the character of the judge. We look up to the bench to examine the kind of judge that will issue a verdict to Nineveh. We behold God as a Judge and a Father. When the Christian looks at God the judge it should immediately make us utterly thankful to Jesus. He has taken the judgement upon himself. God as Judge is jealous, vengeful, furious, wrathful, great in power, and will not acquit the wicked and indignant. His holiness as Judge is awfully awesome.
But He is also Father. As Father God He is slow to anger, good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and one who knows them that trust Him. When we put these together we see that God has taken His time with Assyria. He sent Jonah; He has borne with them for years. But now after many years and many warnings the time for them to receive justice has come.
Secondly, in Nahum 1:8-14 we see the verdict passed upon Nineveh. God knows everything. He puts all they have done onto the scales and because of what they have done he issues the verdict and sentence. Because of Nineveh’s wickedness it is condemned to utter destruction (1:8-9), to be captured like a drunkard (1:10), have their name blotted out (1:14), to have their grave dug by God (1:14).
Thirdly the execution is described in chapters 2-3. The Medes and Babylonians completely destroyed Nineveh in 612 B.C at the high point of its power. Nahum’s prophecy came true. The Tigris floods and washes away a large part of the wall thought impenetrable. Pandemonium erupts in the city as drunken nobles try to rally the troops as they discover vast armies of Medes gathered with brilliantly painted shields, bright robes and shining spears. The destruction is total. So deep is that grave that God digs for Nineveh that the ruins were only found in 1845. Until then the stories of Nineveh were considered mythical. What Nineveh sowed it reaped. They told God He didn’t exist and wasn’t worth seeking or knowing, and so Nineveh ceased to exist and wasn’t known or found. Their sin was punished and their wealth couldn’t stop it (3:1-19).
For us there are many teachings in Nahum. Jesus’ sacrifice taking God’s justice upon himself is shown magnificent. God is the God of all the nations of the world. People who don’t turn to the God of the Bible truly do have an end that is horrible to even think of.
Pic: Nineveh, by James Ferguson (1853)